A Taste of Istanbul

There’s no better time to visit Türkiye, and come hungry

Istanbul, Türkiye, is a city with a rich history, having served as the capital of four different empires throughout its long existence. It has a wealth of historic sites and monuments, including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace, all offering visitors an opportunity to learn about the city’s storied past and its role in shaping the world. Beautiful, historic monuments and fortifications cohabit gracefully with modern buildings and street art, proving it to be an ideal city for
current times.

 Spanning both Europe and Asia and separated by the Bosphorus Strait there are currently nearly 16 million people in Istanbul (that’s two and a half times the size of NYC). Winding streets and pathways, alleys and waterfront promenades offer glimpses into life in this ancient city, which is astonishingly clean and vibrant.

Beside the majestic mosques, with their towering minarets and stunning Byzantine mosaics, the Grand Bazaar, completed in 1730, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It’s a mind-blowing shopping mecca with 61 covered streets and more than 4,000 shops. It’s great fun to haggle prices with the merchants (which is an art form for them) and you can find just about anything imaginable. Next door is a foodie’s paradise: the Spice Bazaar (aka the Egyptian Bazaar, built in 1664) which sells herbs, spices, caviar, nuts, sweets and more.

Visitors may come to Istanbul for the mosques and bazaars, but they leave bewitched by the food. Turkish cuisine is a rich and diverse fusion of flavors, colors and aromas that reflect the country’s geographical location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It draws inspiration from the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Balkan regions, resulting in a unique culinary identity that is both familiar and exotic.

Case in point: Make your way to a narrow alley named Dudu Odalari for an adventure in Turkish “street food”—so named because the tiny food shops are lined up on a street, not street food as we know it in the U.S. First stop, Arıoğulları Petek Turşuları—a teeny store, lined floor-to-ceiling with jars of colorful pickles and olives. Next door is Yildiz Sekerleme—a candy store with every confection you can imagine, including several styles of Turkish Delight (both gels and nougats) flavored with pistachios, rosewater, citrus or other natural flavors. There are other shops on this little street, too, including a bakery—go in for a fresh simit, one of Istanbul’s iconic sesame bagel-like rings.

The neighborhoods of Istanbul each have unique personalities. A trailblazing creative scene is emerging in the Karaköy neighborhood in Beyoğlu (formerly called Pera), a district north of the old city on the European shore of the Bosphorus. Old buildings in Karaköy have been repurposed into shops, art warehouse-studios and trendy cafes. Adjacent is a large-scale urban redevelopment complex called Galataport. With its waterside promenade and outdoor dining venues, it’s set to become “Istanbul’s new gastronomy neighborhood.”

A notable restaurant on Galataport’s waterfront, Muutto Anatolian Tapas Bar, is known for its traditional meze (tapas). Irresistible, not-so-little dishes of köfte (meatballs) and local fish cover the table alongside creative combos of bulgur, hummus, mushrooms, purslane, olives and other regional items. Try to save room for the honey-soaked, pistachio-filled baklava served with a cup of Turkish tea with two or three lumps of sugar. To Turks, the sweeter the better.

Also in Karaköy, occupying the top floor of the Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus is restaurant Mürver, “Through the Live Fire,” where Michelin chef Mevlüt Özkaya sources seasonal products from Anatolia and cooks them using fire: in a wood oven, on a wood grill, hung on an open fire wall or smoked in an intense oven. Imagine Octopus in Ash with Warm Aegean Sumac Salad and Sour Pomegranate and Trakya Kivircik, Slow Fire-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Smoked Firik (Bulgur) with Spicy Apricot Compote and Salted Yogurt, and you get the picture.

 Across the Bosphorus, on the Asian side, is Kadiköy, a more residential-feeling neighborhood with its tiny churches, shops and produce markets. A do-not-miss restaurant here is Ciya Sofrasi which specializes in an assortment of kebabs plus several meat or vegetable main courses, served with traditional pide—a zeppelin-size, puffed-up version of pita. Giant pizza ovens turn out another specialty of the house called lahmacun, a thin Turkish pizza meant to be folded and eaten like a taco.

 In the Yeniköy district, Araka restaurant has earned a Michelin star for chef Zeynep Pinar Tasdemir. Whitewashed brick and stone walls and avant-garde art make a befitting backdrop for her highly individual style. Standouts are a Warm Spicy Olive Salad with Pumpkin Puree, Za’atar and Fresh Herbs, and a glistening shaved Beetroot over Tabbouleh with Basil Pesto and Feta Cream.

 For one of the best breakfast buffets in town, check into the four-star Marmara Pera Hotel in Istanbul City Center. The hotel towers over chic galleries and shops, offering panoramic views of the city. Besides a delicious buffet, the hotel is known for its central location, ultra comfortable rooms and friendly staff.

Across from the Marmara is a landmark hotel you may recognize from the movies: the Pera Palace Hotel, a Belle Epoque marvel where Agatha Christie is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express in her room, 411. The hotel, built in 1892, is worth a visit, especially to savor its opulent decor, including the Art Nouveau lift (the first electric lift built in Istanbul), along with magnificent floral displays and, of course, creative throwback cocktails. goturkiye.com